Saturday, March 26, 2005

Baking School: Quick Breads

This week I began a baking class at a cooking school here in LA. With all the IMBB excitement, I didn't have a chance to post about it before now. Funnily enough, this week's topic was muffins, quick breads and scones.
I wanted to take a professional-type class at a cooking school because I spend so much time baking as it is. I want to be better. Perhaps someday I would consider working my love of baking into a career. Perhaps I just want to make successful, crusty breads at home. I will freely admit that I don't know what my ultimate goal is - but I'll take aimless baking while I can get it.
The class is very small and everyone gets to make everything on their own, an advantage that not all schools can offer. This week, my first week, we worked on quick breads and talked about the properties of chemical leaveners. It was a good introduction to their kitchen, as I am already quite familiar with quick breads (having had a fear of yeast for some time). I will note that this was not necessarily the case for everyone in class, as the students range in experience from home cooks who don't bake to culinary students with their eyes on a career in cooking.
This week, we made Currant Scones, the kind that involve cream and butter, Carrot Cake and Apple Streusel Muffins. With the scones, it was the first time I've actually rubbed butter into flour with my fingers instead of using a cutter or a fork. I know it's a small step, but I was hoping to try some new techniques at school. With strawberry jam, these scones were delicious. The carrot cake was nothing special in my opinion. I couldn't find the pecans that the recipe called for, so I used walnuts. I'm not a huge fan of nuts in my cake and I would have prefered them to be toasted or not there. The spices came through wonderfully because all the spices we used were fresh ground, while at home I normally only have fresh ground nutmeg.
The Apple Streusel Muffins were my favorite of the day. The general reaction was something along the lines of "These are SO good!" They were fantastic tasting, very moist and had an extremely tender crumb. I accidentally added a bit of extra butter to the streussel topping, but clearly that couldn't have done anything but help the final product. In this case, I think that untoasted walnuts were the way to go on the topping because they provided resistance without a distracting crunch. If you don't want to use walnuts, I would add some flour in to the topping mixture to give it a more substantial crumb.

Apple Streusel Muffins
1/3 cup brown sugar
1/2 tsp cinnamon
2 tbsp butter
1/2 cup walnuts
Mix all ingredients to resemble coarse crumbs. Set aside.

1 1/2 cups ap flour
1/2 tsp baking soda
1 tsp baking powder
2/3 cup brown sugar
1/3 cup oil
1 egg
1/2 cup buttermilk
1 tsp vanilla
2/3 cup grated apple (2 apples, peeled and grated)
1/2 tsp salt

Preheat oven to 350F. Grease muffin tin or line with paper liners.
Mix together all dry ingredients. Whisk together all wet ingredients. Fold flour mixture into wet ingredients until just combined.
Spoon batter into tins and top with streusel mixture. Bake 20 minutes, until tester comes out clean.
Makes 8 muffins

I filled my tins about 2/3-3/4 full and made 8. Several people attempted to make 6 muffins and so filled their tins to the top, which resulted in their topping melted all over the surface of the muffin tin.